Telehealth certainly isn’t new, but its explosion over the past year is undeniable and has likely changed how patients perceive doctors’ office visits in the long run. There was an uptick in telehealth interest prior to the pandemic, but it faced legislative barriers and technical inertia, among other challenges. It’s quite clear that the pandemic accelerated its acceptance in mainstream care and comfort levels among patients.
Because of relaxed regulations and greater accessibility and convenience, it seems that telehealth is now here to stay. Industry organizations such as the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association have embraced the expansion of telehealth services in primary care and beyond.
Such an embrace by the healthcare community and by patients includes the invaluable work of professionals in case management. These experts help patients transition from one step to the next within the healthcare system.
Let’s look at 6 best practices for case managers in this growing era of virtual care:
#1) Embrace patient-centric care
With consultations, evaluations, prescription management, and many other aspects of healthcare now available via virtual avenues, providers are focusing on more patient-centric care. But that can be a challenge for telehealth when patients who have not yet used virtual care are uncomfortable with it.
This is why it’s essential for providers to bring the same personalized care they’ve offered during in-person office visits to telehealth platforms. It’s also why providers may need to revisit the basics. This can include more technology (and more access to it) that helps patients make appointments, ask questions about their medical conditions, and “even learn more about the current air quality and how that’s going to affect their health that day.”
But it can also mean putting more emphasis on connections. Case managers already meet patients and their loved ones where they are. Many are well-versed in virtual care planning and coordination while remaining HIPAA compliant. Others continue to evolve how they interface and to develop their digital skills and connections depending on their setting.
In their efforts to “mobilize appropriate resources and personnel in new ways,” they’re asked to make decisions each day that center patients. Making those decisions also means identifying “new and inventive ways for patient screening, stratifying risk, assessing, planning, coordinating care, and performing follow-up, care transitions, communications, and evaluations.”
#2) Utilize different modalities
Effective telehealth is so much more than a 15-minute Zoom consultation. It creates numerous opportunities to deliver care in a variety of ways, such as:
- Synchronous care: Real-time audio/video interactions may include additional medical devices like digital stethoscopes, smart scales, and more.
- Asynchronous care: This technology stores data from one point in time to be collected and analyzed later. For example, patient portals enable communication through secure messaging platforms.
- Remote patient monitoring: This ever-growing segment of telehealth allows the direct transmission of protected health information (PHI) via monitoring devices to healthcare providers. This may expand to a wide array of new technologies such as wearables or passive sensors.
As the digital world of healthcare evolves, case managers will continue to “see a whole ecosystem start to grow around virtual health, video visits, in-home monitoring, and e-care.” They’ll also be on the front line of embracing technology and helping more patients become comfortable using it.
#3) Encourage patients to embrace virtual care
For some, telehealth is a huge advantage – including those with mobility challenges, disabilities, and chronic health concerns. Rather than navigate their way to doctors’ offices and hospitals, patients facing such conditions can now widely receive care from anywhere.
Case managers can maximize the value of these opportunities by:
- communicating with patients about the availability of covered telehealth services (many of these come with important updates on reimbursements)
- taking advantage of telehealth resources, including using digital assessments, to reduce the volume of individuals seeking care within facilities
- reaching out to patients who may have limited access to technology and connectivity, particularly in rural areas, and offering flexibility in the platforms and services
#4) Ensure the safety of telehealth services
As an internet-enabled service, telehealth faces an inherent risk. Healthcare professionals and organizations must take caution to protect patient PHI as well as educate their patients on the steps they can take to improve the safety of their data within their own environments.
This, of course, includes case managers who must be aware of telehealth best practices, policies, and protocols as they collaborate in coordinating care.
#5) Recognize the limitations of telehealth
While telehealth services have been around for a while, many providers and patients are still becoming familiar with them. It’s important for case managers to recognize the fluidity of the situation and be flexible as their patients adjust and as the technology evolves.
It’s crucial to pay particular attention to:
- regulatory and licensure updates
- the necessity of any in-person visits and coordination needed due to specific health conditions, urgency, etc
- the need to address difficult topics and appreciating patient concerns for privacy
- the varying level of familiarity and comfort with technology among patients
- any limited access to devices
#6) Recognize that in many ways nothing has changed
Some of the best practices followed by case managers have existed for years and are still the same in this pandemic. In many ways, the only thing that has changed is how care they interact with patients and their loved ones.
All of the essential features, including comprehensive patient assessment, counseling when needed, and developing and implementing individualized care regimens, apply now more than ever. Telehealth opens up different avenues to provide these services.
Case managers bring value to these avenues in many ways, such as:
- defining the roles and responsibilities that are required to perform remotely
- discussing training opportunities for remote responsibilities as needed
- having familiarity with individual roles and responsibilities, including documentation requirements
- creating escalation and support procedures that address technical and patient challenges
- having access to key contact information such as technical support, peers, and relevant personnel
- ensuring the security of PHI and the adherences to HIPAA regulations
The following tips can help remote case managers just as they do other remote healthcare professionals as they tackle virtual needs:
- Create a dedicated and private space for work.
- Designate specific and secure work devices.
- Establish a smooth workflow.
- Connect with colleagues routinely.
- Be mindful of the new dynamic and don’t be afraid to communicate any problems along the way.
- Take time for self-care.
Here at Harmony, our expert case management consultants are highly skilled in supporting providers with proper management of the cost of care across the continuum. Take the next step in partnering with us by clicking below.